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Vassily Kandinsky

A Russian, German then French painter, the founder of abstraction and art theoretician, Vassily Kandinsky marked the 20th Century with his original avant-garde art. Kandinsky’s paintings focus on shapes, lines and colours, also revealing a search for the spirituality that we find in his theoretical works. Today, he is known throughout the world as one of the pioneers of modern art.

Biography

1866-1908: inspiration and apprenticeship

Vassily Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866 and showed a real fascination for colour from a very early age. After a childhood spent between Russia and Italy, he studied law up to thesis level. In 1889, a study trip took him to Northern Russia, where he was impressed by popular Russian art and the brightly-coloured houses that were to become a source of inspiration.
In 1895, he was amazed to discover Monet’s Haystacks at an exhibition that proved to be a turning-point for him: he turned down a professor’s chair in law, turned to art and, in 1896, joined the Academy of Fine Art in Munich: a very late introduction to painting. His early works were often landscapes inspired by impressionism; he completed L’Ecluse (The Lock) (1901) and Rotterdam (1904), travelled a great deal and took part in a number of exhibitions, but his work remained relatively unknown.

1908-1914: the Blue Rider, on the road to abstraction

From 1908, Kandinsky’s painting entered a new phase: his works moved increasingly away from the real and the figurative and became, for the painter, a “collision between colours and lines”. Abstraction was gradually born, the outcome of many years’ work and a great deal of theoretical thinking. Kandinsky’s first truly abstract watercolour was painted in 1910 and is the starting point of a decisive movement in the history of painting. Colour plays a leading role in Kandinsky’s work, combined with shapes and lines to form paintings of great intensity. The abstract, avant-garde Composition V (1911) caused a scandal.
Alongside painting, Kandinsky built up a theory of art; his book
Concerning the spiritual in art, in which he highlighted the spiritual role of art, was published in 1911. In the same year he founded The Blue Rider with Franz Marc and produced The Blue Rider’s Almanac and Impression V (1911), thus reaching a new milestone on the road to abstraction.

1914-1933: the Russian and German periods

Kandinsky was forced to return to Russia in 1914 and completed hardly any paintings during the war (Einfach, 1916). He married Nina Andreievskaïa in 1917, with whom he had a son. From 1918 to 1921, he was given a number of official functions relating to Russia’s cultural development. As the situation worsened, he took advantage of a trip to Germany to flee the country in 1921. He became a teacher at the Bauhaus in Weimer, then at the Bauhaus in Dessau. In his teaching as in his painting, geometrical patterns became increasingly important, mainly circles, angles, straight lines and curves. Then followed a particularly fertile creative period during which he painted Auf Weiss II (1923), Yellow – red – blue (1925), Circles (1926) and Thirteen Rectangles (1930). On the strength of his research into shapes, Kandinsky published his theoretical work Point and line to plane in 1926. The Nazis closed the Bauhaus in 1933; Kandinsky therefore left Germany and moved to Paris.

1933-1944: the Paris period

The eleven years spent in Paris, which were Kandinsky’s last, formed a period of synthesis in which he was particularly creative and took part in a number of exhibitions. His paintings included Composition IX (1936) and Sky Blue (1940). Although his work was given a mixed reception, it was nevertheless exhibited in Paris, Milan, Stockholm and New York.
Kandinsky was always seeking the
spiritual dimension of art : “Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult as it requires the artist to be acutely sensitive to the composition and colours, and to be a real poet”.
The father of abstraction died in 1944, virtually ignored by all, leaving a large number of
abstract paintings and a great deal of theoretical writing to posterity. Nina Kandinsky spent thirty years exhibiting her husband’s works throughout the world. She bequeathed all the paintings in her possession to the Pompidou Centre and founded the Kandinsky Society in 1979.

Works

See the works by Kandinsky at the Pompidou Centre

Useful links

Read the Pompidou Centre’s teaching pack on Vassily Kandinsky

Vassily Kandinsky 's products at Nouvelles Images

> Prints and posters

Prints and posters The three Ovals Prints and posters A Tribute to Grohmann
Identity

Nationality(ies) : German, French, Russian
Born on : 04/12/1866
Died on : 13/12/1944
Profile : Set designer, Designer, Engraver, Painter
Artistic current(s) : Abstract art , Modern Art
Theme(s) covered : Colors and materials

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